Step-By-Step Bar Mitzvah Planning and Bat Mitzvah Planning Guide





The following Step-by-step Bar and Bat Mitzvah Planning Guide incorporates the tips and advice of dozens of MitzvahMavens across the country: rabbis, cantors, party planners and parents. It's similar to our comprehensive To-Do Checklist but goes into far more detail about the pros and cons of the various decisions and choices you'll need to make.

1.   Set your bar/bat mitzvah date
2.   Devise a preliminary budget
3.   Design the architecture of your bar/bat mitzvah
4.   Decide if you're hiring an event planner
5.   Create a preliminary guest list
6.   Gather bids from vendors
7.   Book your party location(s)
8.   Book your DJ or band and caterer
9.   Confirm when your child's tutoring sessions begin; pencil in the       dates of any synagogue-sponsored orientation sessions
10. Read and discuss your child's Torah and/or Haftorah portion(s).
11. Encourage your child to select a mitzvah project
12. Book your photographer and all other vendors
13. Finalize your guest list
14. Order invitations
15. Make decisions about the party


STEP 1: Set Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah date

Contact your synagogue when your child turns 9 or 10 to inquire about its Bar Mitzvah program; many require your child complete a certain number of years in their religious schools or Jewish day school. In general, small synagogues often have the flexibility to let you pick your own date while larger ones, which hold dozens of bat/ bar mitzvahs each year, tend to assign you a date -- though you’re usually free to switch if circumstances warrant it. Of course, if you're planning an independent service, outside the synagogue system, your date is up to you.

If your date is set, skip ahead to Step #2. If the date is your choice, decide if you want to:

[A] hold the bar/ bat mitzvah as close to your child’s birthday as possible

[B] hold the bat/ bar mitzvah during a season you love (such as the spring) or that’s best for important elderly and/or out-of-town guests to attend.

[C] select a Torah or Haftorah portion that is especially meaningful to you and set the bat/ bar mitzvah on the date that portion is read.

Try to avoid:

  • Excluding your child from the decision to move the bar/ bat mitzvah away from his/her birth date. Some kids have strong opinions about this.

  • Setting a date when another child you know is having a bar/ bat mitzvah

  • Setting a date when your child’s friends are out of town on holidays, three-day weekends or summer, spring or winter breaks. Be sure to check the latest version of your school calendar. And just to be extra safe, consider asking if the school has added any teacher training or report writing days on Friday but not yet put them on the calendar.

  • Picking a weekend when there’s a convention or large-scale event in your area. You may find it hard to book a reception venue or block of hotel rooms at affordable prices.

  • STEP 2: Create a preliminary budget

    STEP 3: Decide the architecture of your Bat/ Bar Mitzvah
    Think of planning a bat/ bar mitzvah as a two-pronged endeavor. Prong #1 is preparing for the service, which rests largely, but not entirely, on your child’s (and synagogue’s) shoulders. Prong #2 is the celebration, which rests entirely on yours. The moment you settle on your date, move immediately to Prong #2. Why? The earlier, the better for locking in your choices for the Big Three: Location, Food and Music (LFM).

    But, of course, you can’t book anyone until you’ve decided the architecture of the event. So here's a rundown of your options:

    Options for the Service

    [1] A traditional Friday night/ Saturday morning reading of the Torah and/or Haftorah at your synagogue

    Who’s Invited? Your family and friends AND all your child’s friends.

    PROS: As they sing in "Fiddler on the Roof": Tradition!

    CONS: Everyone loves this format so, in some popular synagogues, you may have to share the stage with up to two other bar/ bat mitzvah families -- and maybe even a family celebrating a baby naming.

    [2] A traditional Friday night/ Saturday morning reading of the Torah and/or Haftorah at your synagogue

    Who’s Invited? Your family and friends BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends.

    PROS: As the mother of a child whose bar mitzvah was in June, at the end of a busy 7th-grade bar mitzvah cycle, put it: “The kids are so tired of sitting through a whole year of synagogue services and I really didn’t want a temple full of bored, rowdy kids ruining the service.” She, her husband and child decided to invite only the child’s very best friends to the service; the entire list of friends got invited to the evening party.

    CONS: Your child’s hard work and accomplishment go unseen by the majority of his classmates.

    [3] A Saturday night Ma’ariv service

    Who’s Invited? Your family and friends AND all your child’s friends.

    PROS: It’s shorter than Options 1 or 2, which means fewer prayers to learn -- always a plus for those with learning issues. Usually incorporate the lovely Havdallah service. The temple will likely have fewer attendees, making for a more intimate ceremony. You can segue right from the service into a Saturday night fete, enabling you to have an evening party while avoiding the conundrum of keeping out-of-town guests occupied during the day (as is the case when you have a morning service and evening party). You save money by not having to buy two extra outfits.

    CONS: Your child’s hard work and accomplishment may go unseen by many members of the synagogue. And you may get some raised eyebrows or questions from traditionalists.

    [4] A service in Israel

    Who’s Invited? Your family and close friends BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends.

    PROS: A cultural, spiritual and/or religious awakening for your child (as well as the rest of your family). You’re supporting the Israeli travel and tourism industry.

    CONS: Your child’s hard work and accomplishment goes unseen by his classmates. The expense for your guests. Security concerns.

    [5] A service at a synagogue elsewhere around the world

    Who’s Invited? Your family and close friends BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends.

    PROS: Like a destination wedding, this increasingly popular kind of event can be fun and even educational for your guests. To learn more, see Travel and Adventure Bar Mitzvahs.

    CONS: You’ll probably have to make a long list of arrangements yourself. Your child’s hard work and accomplishment goes unseen by most of her classmates and members of the synagogue.

    [6] A service outside a synagogue in a rental hall, room at the reception venue or at a park, beach or mountaintop.

    Who’s Invited? Your family and friends AND all your child’s friends.

    PROS: If you don’t belong to a synagogue, this option lets you tailor a service to your liking. By "going independent," you save on Hebrew School and synagogue fees. Even when you do belong to a synagogue, you can consider this option if you want a memorable, personal, unique ceremony.

    CONS: You’ll probably have to make a long list of arrangements yourself, from procuring the Torah, rabbi and/ or cantor to arranging for seating, prayer books, tenting, wheelchair ramps, etc. For outdoor services, worrying about the weather. Pass the Advil!

    Options for the Celebration

    [1] A luncheon immediately following the Saturday afternoon service with your friends, family AND all your child’s friends.

    PROS: This arrangement keeps the energy and momentum going. You don’t have to drum up ways to keep out-of-towners occupied during a multi-hour break between events (as you do with evening parties). You only have to do your hair and makeup once. You only need to keep your energy going until 5 or 6 p.m. And luncheons are less expensive than dinners.

    CONS: If you or your guests are strictly shomer shabbas, you're confined to a lunch location within walking distance of your synagogue. And music is out. For those who aren't shomer shabbas, if your party is far from the service, you’ll have to arrange and pay for transportation for your child’s friends, and, possibly, out-of-town and car-less guests. To some, there’s nothing like the excitement and glamour of an evening party. Depending on the design of the venue, you may have to bring in special lighting to create the dance-club atmosphere some kids need to feel free about dancing in public.

    [2] A luncheon immediately following the Saturday afternoon service with your friends and family BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends. (Can combine with Celebration Option #5, a kids-only party)

    PROS: Same as the pros for Option 1. The difference is that by combining with Celebration Option 5, you can both max out the kid guest list at a kids-only party and have a quieter, less expensive luncheon.

    CONS: If you have the luncheon at the synagogue, your child's friends who're going to the kids-only event may feel slighted as they watch your adult guests and selected child invitees head off to lunch together. Also, your child may want to celebrate right away with as many friends as possible.

    [3] A Saturday night dinner celebration with your friends and family AND all your child’s friends.

    PROS: The time slot spells sophistication and excitement. Your guests arrive rested and primed to party. It's a great opportunity for a dressy or black-tie affair. Shomer shabbas families can fully participate.

    CONS: This option can be the most expensive as you're paying for dinner (rather than lunch) for many adults and kids. Some out-of-town guests may have trouble occupying themselves during the hours between the service and the party; you may have to play tour guide or concierge. Evening parties generally include more drinking than daytime parties, increasing the chances your child’s friends will succeed at sneaking drinks. Asking the parents of your child’s friends to do pick-ups as late as midnight.

    [4] A Saturday night celebration with your family and friends BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends (Can combine with Option #5, a kids only party at a different time)
    PROS: Lets you have a sophisticated, elegant affair without having to worry about catering to the tastes and interests of kids.

    CONS: Your child may miss having her friends.

    [5] A Saturday night or Sunday late-afternoon / night celebration for ONLY your child’s friends

    PROS: In some circles, a kids-only party is both cool and de rigeur. And because you’re not feeding each guest a $150 butlered meal, you can max out the guest list, inviting even the entire grade at school, as well as many of your child's other friends. The upside: if your bar or bat mitzvah is early in the school year, your child will be invited back to every party and have a busy social calendar all year (you'll have to decide whether this is a plus or not).

    CONS: Hosting a second party can get expensive; you'll have to run the numbers to see how it compares to having all the kids at a day or evening meal. Depending on the number and personalities of the kids, you may have to round up extra parents, friends or relatives or even hire a “security” person to keep the party in control.

    [6] A celebration in Israel or other travel destination.

    Who’s Invited? Your family and closest friends BUT NONE/ ONLY A FEW of your child’s friends.

    PROS: For families and/or children who’re not suited for or interested in big parties, this may be the best way to go. A cultural, spiritual and/or religious awakening for your child (as well as the rest of your family).

    CONS: Israel's security situation.

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    STEP 4: Decide About Hiring an Event Planner
    The pennypincher in us says no to the idea of hiring a planner; who needs yet another expense? The overwhelmed MitzvahMom in us manages to lift her head off the floor and moan: "When can she get here?"

    So how does one decide whether a Party Planner is a rip-off or a godsend? We like the analogy FeteNY, a New York-based planning firm, uses to help people decide whether to hire them: “The role that a planner plays in an event is similar to that of an architect and project manager in building a house. Like an architect, a planner determines the clients’ specific needs and then works with the clients to make their vision come to life. A comprehensive plan can be sketched out, saving clients time and money. Like a good project manager, the event planner selects the best vendors for each job, and then more importantly, manages them carefully to ensure they deliver the exact service agreed upon. We are professionals who bring experience, resources and expertise."

    It's also worth noting that while some event planners charge flat fees or percentages of your budget, others charge you nothing. (Yes, you read that right!) Their fees are paid, instead, by the vendors they recommend. Not surprisingly, their selection of vendors is more limited, as may be the list of services the planner provides you.

    Here's a look at planners can do:

  • Help negotiate better prices with the vendors you choose, thanks to the volume of business they do. Some will vet your vendor contracts.

  • Confirm vendor availability for your date and use their clout to help you get the location you want — sometimes even when it's already "booked."

  • Run interference and fix unexpected problems with vendors and guests.

  • Be a great calming influence -- or shoulder to cry on.

    NOT SURE? To learn more about what party planners can do click here. To read reviews of your area’s party planners, written by real bar bat mitzvah families, see our Vendor Quick Search.

    NOT INTERESTED, THANKS! Of course, plenty MitzvahMamas have planned glorious, organized bat mitzvahs without a professional planner or consultant in sight. This is the way to go if you’re on a low/ moderate budget or have the time and willingness to manage your vendors on the big day and have a supply of friends and relatives willing to lend helping hands and to troubleshoot.

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  • STEP 5: Create a preliminary guest list
    The easy part of this step is tallying your family and close friends. The more challenging aspect is deciding how far afield you want to cast your guest list net. Do you want to invite co-workers? Neighbors? Do you want to offer your parents the opportunity to invite some of their friends? Then there's deciding whether you're going to invite all the children in your tween's grade at school. And the friends from camp, or activities outside of school. Of course, your decisions partially hinge on the budget you've set and the party architecture you've selected. For example, with a kids-only party where most of the costs are fixed (such as for the DJ and space rental), it's more economical to max your guest list than when you're paying a per head cost for meals at a lunch or dinner.

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    STEP 6: Gather bids from vendors
    See our Vendor Quick Search to find and solicit written bids from two or three vendors you're interested in.

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    STEP 7: Book your party location(s)
    When you find a location you love that's available on your date, it's time to move to the next step: negotiating the price, then asking for a written contract. This is where seasoned party planners come in handy but there's no reason you can't work with your venue to get the best deal possible.

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    STEP 7.5: Reward yourself time!
    Congratulate yourself for getting this far. Go get a facial or manicure. We insist! Also, this is a great time to sit down together as a family and watch the movie "Keeping Up With the Steins." A comedy starring the boy from "Spy Kids," it's a great reality check and diversion and it may inspire new ideas and directions as you plan. Watch the trailer here.

    STEP 8: Book your caterer and music
    These are the second most important vendors to lock up. They can make or break your celebration, so the popular ones get snapped up early. We’ve even heard of DJs getting booked a whopping two years in advance.

    If the previous sentence has just spiked your blood pressure into the stratsophere, relax! So-called "popular" DJs are often simply those everyone keeps using (out of, perhaps, convenience or laziness). But we've attended truly amazing bar mitzvah parties, with packed-at-all-times dance floors, presided over by unknown or last-minute replacement DJs.

    As for caterers, if you've booked a venue with an in-house or exclusive catering deal, pat yourself on the back for getting to skip this step.

    All others, check out our Vendor Quick Search. You can find ratings and reviews of vendors, written by bat bar mitzvah hosts and guests, in your local area. You can also narrow your search so it finds kosher caterers or those who have partnering relationships with kosher caterers.

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    Step 9. Confirm When Your Child's Tutoring Sessions Begin
    At most synagogues, your child begins working with a tutor between 12 to nine months before the bar bat mitzvah date. If learning issues are involved, you may want to arrange for an earlier start date.

    Think about whether Torah study software is right for you.

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    STEP 10: As a family, read and discuss your child's Torah and/or Haftorah portion
    STEP 11: Encourage your child to select a mitzvah project
    See Good Deeds 101 for ideas on finding the perfect project.
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    STEP 12. Book all outstanding vendors
    Assuming you've already sewn up your choices for Caterer, Party Location and Music, it's time to select whom you're going to hire from among this list of vendor categories:

    CALLIGRAPHER
    CAKE BAKER
    DESIGNER/ DECORATOR
    ENTERTAINMENT: NON-MUSICAL
    FLORIST (Know that you can also peruse our gallery of flower arrangements you can order online.)
    LIGHTING
    PHOTOGRAPHY
    TRANSPORTATION
    VIDEOGRAPHY

    Again, our Vendor Quick Search has reviews and rankings in all these categories.
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    STEP 13. Finalize your guest list
    It's decision time: time to figure out who's definitely a "yes" and who's definitely a "no." As for that collection of "maybes," try to move them into one column or the other. If you're truly torn about a handful, assume for now they're in. Why? You don't want to be delayed in moving to Step 14, ordering your invitations. And generally, you place orders for invites in batches of 25 so it's okay to err on the side of one batch too many. You'll have extras and plenty of wiggle room later on.
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    STEP 14. Order invitations
    Learn about invitation etiquette, wording and who's who among invitation manufacturers here. Or jump to our complete selection of B Mitzvah invites at the Mitz Mall.

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    STEP 15. Make decisions about the party
    Review these key questions you'll want to answer about the party here.

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